BLADE Magazine

Unconditionally Traditional: The Beauty Of Custom Pocketknives

Custom Pocketknives Always Seem To Make Us Feel Nostalgic. These Models From Talented Custom Makers Are All Gems.

There’s something about classic custom pocketknives that tugs at the heartstrings. Once you get bitten by the bug it’s an itch you can never quite finish scratching. It becomes indelibly etched in the DNA. 

Fortunately, custom knifemakers never tire of building them and every year provide new offerings and fresh looks. Meet four of those makers, each highly skilled at the craft who build exquisite knives with personalities all their own.

With its beefy bolster and no-nonsense stout handle, the barlow slip-joint pocketknife is designed for hard use. Adam Rogers gave his two-blade iteration all the right stuff for a million-dollar look.

“I see the barlow as the perfect example of a gentleman’s folder, very universal and great as an everyday carry,” the Aussie maker observes. His upscale workhorse is 3.35 inches closed with a 2.2-inch spear-point main blade and a 1.57-inch secondary pen pattern. He chose CPM 154 stainless steel to do the cutting chores and the fluted bolsters are 416 stainless. “The long pull works well with the shape of the spear blade, whilst giving easy access to open,” Adam notes. 

The upscale liners are jeweled and the backsprings are CPM 154.

Why did he choose giraffe bone for the scales? “Giraffe bone is a great product to work with, easy to use with a large variety of colors available,” Adam assesses. “Paired with the fluted 416 stainless steel bolsters it gives the folder a clean, sophisticated look.” Other traditional pocketknife patterns Adam offers include the sowbelly, saddlehorn trapper—both single and twin blades—small and medium trappers, wharncliffe trapper, Lanny’s Clip and the muskrat.

Trapper By Bubba Crouch

Bubba Crouch goes the unusual materials route for his dress slip-joint trapper, including a 4-inch blade forged from old Schrade trapper blades and handle wood from the pole that held up the original telephone lines from the house to the office of famed Texas cattle baron Charles Goodnight. (SharpByCoop image)

You might say custom knifemaker Bubba Crouch doesn’t walk the straight and narrow. Instead, he infuses interesting stories and twists in his slip-joint pocketknives that make them truly remarkable. Take, for instance, his dress trapper.

“A customer gave me the wood for the handle he bought at a fundraiser auction from the estate of Mr. Charles Goodnight,” Bubba says. “The historical wood was holding up the original telephone lines from Goodnight’s house to his office.” Just so you know, Goodnight was a living legend among cattle barons in the latter half of the 1800s.

If that isn’t enough to set Crouch’s trapper apart, the 4-inch clip-point blade with the deep belly is forged by Jason Fry from old Schrade trapper blades. The integral bolsters are made to resemble the beaten copper pots Bubba’s mom acquired in New Mexico when Bubba was a child. “I’m always hunting for something unique with a historical past,” he states. “It’s really challenging trying to find these items.”

Like Tom Ploppert (read on for more on him) and many other slip-joint makers, Bubba gets no small part of his inspiration from BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Tony Bose. 

“I build mostly trappers in three sizes but I have also built Saddlehorn trappers from the Tony Bose design,” he says. “I’ve built a few lockbacks too but my market is mainly the trapper.”

The Lincoln Folder

Eugene Shadley’s Lincoln Folder is a reproduction of the six-blade congress pocketknife that was on President Abraham Lincoln’s person when he was assassinated. The blades are CPM 154 stainless steel and the handle is smooth white bone. Maker’s price for a similar knife: $5,000.

Custom knifemaker Eugene Shadley is royalty among slip joint aficionados, so it’s only fitting we feature his reproduction of a pocketknife owned by one of our most famous presidents.

“The Lincoln Folder is my rendition of the congress pocketknife Abraham Lincoln had in his pocket the night he was assassinated,” Shadley notes. “A customer asked me to make a copy.”

The Lincoln Folder is only 3.5 inches closed yet features six blades inside its compact frame. The liners and bolsters are 416 stainless steel with smooth white bone scales topped with a gently curved round bar shield. The blades include a large spear, large sheepsfoot, a cutoff pen, two pen blades, and a manicure blade with a nail cleaner and a file on either side.

Just how tough is it to make multi-blades, especially one with six blades? “Anytime you make a knife where blades pass each other, everything really does need to be in its place,” the award-winning maker and a past president of The Knifemakers’ Guild explains. “A lot of factory knives had a little longer and thinner blades that passed each other. Those knives tended to be more utilitarian and rubbing was the norm. We custom makers are expected to make sure blades do not rub each other.”

Wilbert Saddlehorn Trapper

The Wilbert Saddlehorn Trapper by Tom Ploppert is a lockback with a rich factory history. BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Tony Bose introduced Tom to the knife many years ago. Tom’s price for a similar reproduction: $2,100. (Mitchell D. Cohen photography)

Tom Ploppert’s Wilbert Saddlehorn Trapper is a reproduction of a lockback with a rich factory history. 

“Wilbert Cutlery Co. was located in Chicago and was a retail brand sold by Sears Roebuck & Co. through a contract with Napanoch Knife Co. and Empire Knife Co.,” he explains. “They were made from approximately 1908 to 1921. Tony Bose introduced me to this knife and its history many years ago and shared the pattern with me as well.”

The scales are a gnarly premium stag and the integral bolsters are 416 stainless steel. Closed length: 4.5 inches. The Wilbert’s 3.75-inch clip-point blade of CPM 154 stainless steel features a classic nail nick. “There is a lot of blade to fit into a narrow handle and bolster area,” Tom states. “It requires a lot of adjustments along the building process.”

Another notable feature is the blade’s well-defined grind. “I hollow grind all my blades with a 20-inch Burr King grinder using a 1-inch-wide wheel,” Tom notes. “I get crisp grind lines using fresh new belts. Bill Ruple [page 12] taught me early on that nothing cuts like a fresh new belt—along with years of practice.”

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